Monday, March 14, 2005

What should we do about hymnals and pew Bibles?

When I have the rare opportunity to sit in one of the pews beyond the front row here at Grace Church, SLO, I am always a bit embarrassed by our shabby hymnals and spotty Bibles. Likewise I, and others, have been frustrated by the disconnect between the New International Version in the pews and the New American Standard I preach from. For two years, I have been ruminating on these issues, discussing them with others, and prayerfully trying to determine our direction for the future. We are talking about a potentially significant financial investment and a decision we'll live with for five years or more. Here are some important questions/issues that have arisen in the discussion . . .

• Should we purchase new hymnals and/or Bibles? Why or why not?

• Should we not purchase new hymnals since we project slides of 99% of all lyrics we sing togeteher?

• Should we not purchase new pew Bibles and move toward printing or projecting all Scripture we reference in our services? (This seems to be the trend in most churches these days.) Just because we can, should we? What's at stake here?

• Should we continue to encourage people to bring their Bibles and open their Bibles in our worship? Why or why not?

• Which version of pew Bible should we purchase and does it matter? Are some versions to be preferred over others?

• How can we put the Bible in the hands of those who don't have a Bible? Is there a way to be "missional" in our pew Bible vision?

• How do we affirm our commitment to the Scriptures in our handling of these issues?

Before I share my own convictions and conclusions on these matters, I thought I would let these questions hang out there for while. I would like to hear your thoughts. I'd like to know what other churches are doing. Share some ideas and leave some comments.

I will tell you that the Elders at Grace Church, SLO have recently affirmed a vision and direction in these matters. I am eager to share it with you and even more eager to see it implemented! Is the suspense killing you? I think perhaps, this week, I'll share my thoughts on one issue a day or so. Consider it my first blog series!


brad said...

Get rid of the NIV

BUT have people bring their bibles so they can mark 'em up and wear 'em out. I like it when people bring note books and write down inspirational ideas etc.

But few do in our church much to my dismay. I was raised in a church setting where everyone brought a worn out bible and used in in morning devotions and church etc.

Chris Emlyn said...

Unfortunately I have never paid attention to the condition of the Bibles or hymnals, since most songs are projected and I bring my own Bible to church. If you decided to replace the Bibles I would concur with Brad on getting NASB or ESV. I also like NKJV. I strongly dislike the idea of projecting the scripture passages--it makes me feel as though I am being spoonfed.

As far as the hymnals go, I personally like to be able to read the music as I sing, but I'm not sure it would be worth the expense to get new ones.

Rob and Miriam Gunn said...

HI Tim. I enjoy your blog and check it out every day. Just thought I would throw out a couple of things I have seen in other churches. Our church here is going through the same decisions.

I use the NASB too for study and preparation, but the NIV is still far and away the most popular, especially among young people. I use a parallel and compare the two whenever I can-obviously too much for a pew bible. So that will be a tough call. I'll be interested to see how you go. One church I visited recently had paperback pew bibles and invited anyone one who wanted one to take one. I thought that was kind of neat (we do something similar in our college ministry.)

Hymnals seem popular with older people and people who read music-I remember my dad always singing the bass part in church-a fond memory. Again, I can see both sides.

I look forward to your series!-Rob Gunn

Brian Wong said...

I would suggest going with whatever Bible you decide to preach from. If you are planning on using the NAS, that's the Bible I'd put in the pews. At my church back home, the senior pastor recently decided to move to the ESV after a long history of using the NIV. At that point, the church decided to invest in new ESV pew bibles.

I would vote against the purchase of new hymnals. It seems to me that the projection of the words on the screen is sufficient.

Definitely continue to encourage people to bring their own Bibles. As brad mentioned, it's cool when people mark up their Bibles. It allows them to get into the Word more deeply, and have a lasting connection with the message of that day.

Thanks for seeking our opinion.

Helen V. said...

I agree with what has been said here. NASB or ESV are the best versions with ease of understanding. I agree with Brian that you should get the version you will be preaching from. I wouldn't project the scripture passages because everyone should be encouraged to follow along in their own Bibles.

I haven't paid any attention to the hymnals because we don't use them. I do think it would be great if we used them when we sing the hymns. I guess that might justify getting new ones. It would be a blessing for the older generation and good training for the younger generation. I don't think we could justify getting new ones if they will just sit behind the pews and look nice:)

Thanks for considering our opinions.

Phillip Moses said...

Hey, Tim,

I'm sure you have some pretty clear ideas about this subject, but I'll throw my vote into the lot. I think that it is important to put scripture into the hands of the congregation for many of the reasons listed above and many others. As for which version, that decision would best be made by evaluating the church's vision for the function of the Bibles in the pews.

I know it could get pricey, but in the spirit of a more missional stance with the function of these Bibles, we could make it policy that anyone who does not own a Bible can simply take the pew Bible home with them.

If we go this route, then this Bible should represent the translation that the elders feel would be the best introduction for a new Bible reader (my vote is ESV, but I hate to sound like I'm jumping on the band-wagon).

As for hymnals, I have some pretty traditional thinking on this subject.

I love the vision our church has for our worship, but I see very few people bothering to look in the hymnal for the hymns that we sing (do we even project the page number?). One thing that I would love to see is the habit of children looking along with their parents and reading the music of old hymns that may be new to our generation.

Perhaps one way of doing this is turning off the slides every now and then and engaging the congregation in interacting with the text of hymns in a more tactile way? Perhaps a quarterly or monthly Sunday evening worship/prayer service where we occasionaly explore old hymns together would help?

Of course, I am assuming alot with this ideal, but it is my desire to instill a love for the hymnal as part of the spiritual heritage that I give to my own children. I believe every home should have (at least) one and be used on a regular basis.

Well, I'd better stop now, before I find my soap-box. Great subject for a blog discussion, though!

Tim Weaver said...

Yes, the Hymnals are hurtin', but if the only time that we are going to use them is when we get David to come down from Mount Herman, I don't see a point in getting new ones. I would just stow them and pull them out when we are going to use them so that they get beat up less. Of course, I would love to be singing hymns more, but in the great scheme of things, I really don't care what style we use as long as we are worshipping the Lord together. I'm with Phillip in thinking that we would do the next generation a service in keeping in touch with the hymns because I think that on the average there is significantly more depth in them than most of what has been written in more recent years.

A complaint that I hear about Bibles from people with minimal church background are different translations, so I would agree in getting Bibles in the translation that the preacher is going to use the most. I think that people should bring their own, but we need to provide for people who are just visiting and checking things out (or forgot theirs in the rush of leaving the house after cleaning up after 50 million things went wrong on Sunday morning). I like that paper back idea and inviting people to take it if they don't have one at home. When they get a bit old (but not trashed), I would bet that there are juvenile hall and jail ministry workers who would be glad to use them. (I know of at least one.)

I am very happy when you say 'turn in your Bibles to...' Please don't project the scriptures. It will only feed our (my) natural laziness. Make us open our Bibles and dig. Make us learn by experience that 1 John 1 and John 1 are different and the Ezra isn't with the other 'minor' prophets at the back of the O.T. We need to be in OUR Bibles and know them like the back of our hands and this comes much better by doing it than by being told about it. Like the Albert Mohler article talked about, we need to be able say something is true because the Bible says so.

Tim Ronda said...

Hi Tim. I've also been enjoying your Blog. Here are my thoughts on the subject:

Put the bible that you preach from in the pews (I confess, I've always preferred the NASB anyway).

I also like the idea of using paperback pew bibles that may be taken by anyone who wants one.

I like hymnals but we never use them. I recently visited EVBC in Gilbert, Arizona where Al's predecessor and Grace alumni Gary Bloomquist is the worship pastor. They hand out a worship preparation pamphlet with song lyrics for the following Sunday so that you can be prepared ahead of time (wow!). They use projected music for the services. I like the idea of having the music printed as well as projected if it can be done without copyright difficulty.

Tim Ronda

Brianna Heldt said...

I never noticed the hymnals being in poor condition, and perhaps it's not a necessity to replace them all (I liked what Phillip said about maybe trying to use them more.) Anyway, as for the Bibles, ideally they would be in the same translation that the pastor teaches from. I also like the idea of allowing people to take them home if they don't own one. On the other hand, I don't think there's anything "wrong" with projecting the scriptures, either, if the other option is cost prohibitive. New Life in Pismo does that, and the pastor often has the whole congregation read along with him aloud, which is neat. Even if you project it, people can still be encouraged to turn to it in their Bible, and you can still provide Bibles in the pews.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim,

My 2 cents? Hymnals are cool, but can the Bibles altogether. When I was a kid, we went to church, but never brought Bibles because "they were in the pews." Consequently, we never read the Bible at home either. They collected dust on the shelves.

I don't care much about which translation is used, but agree with the following statement by Brad Hightower (Hi Brad!): "BUT have people bring their bibles so they can mark 'em up and wear 'em out. I like it when people bring note books and write down inspirational ideas etc."

One thing you could do, that may cost a little money (I know your church - you have the money :-)), is buy Bibles in bulk and offer free Bibles to visitors who come without their own Bible. Our church does this and they give out about 20-40 per week (we have two, 2,000 person services).

Just a thought.

Rick Brady

Steve Bowen said...

re: hymnals-
Apart from the physical condition of the hymnals, the ones at Grace are woefully outdated. There are many hymns in there that were popular 50 years ago and have fallen out of general use, so choosing hymns from that hymnal is a challenge. (At our church before Grace, I often had that task, from the same outdated hymnal. We started a drive to buy new hymnals, then moved to Grace to the old ones again just as we'd raised enough money...) I would really hate to see giving up on the hymnals altogether, but since I'm not there any more, my vote may not count.

penny m said...

I must admit, my first response was to say "Do away with the hymnals", as we don't use them in the service. After reading all the previous comments about growing up with them, I became nostalgic, thinking back to those Sunday services when my Mom would point out which line we were singing in the hymn, and how you can't read it like a book... As a kid I stood on the pew between my parents as we all sang those majestic hymns together. What a legacy to pass onto our own children! And the harmonies that come when people can see the music they're singing...beautiful.
Right now I'm only pulling a hymnal out as a writing surface for taking notes during the sermon (when I'm not in the cry room with the baby!) Let's put them to better use!

Travis said...

Tim -- those are great questions to wrestle with that our church had to deal with as well. The questions were very similiar to the ones you wrote. One additional question that was extremely helpful was, "Who is this for?" It is for people who already attend church and that's what they want. Or is it for the people whom we are trying to reach. I know churches that are investing in hymnals because the people they want to reach want that. And my thought is way to go. The question "Who is it for?" is extremely important. In fact, that question often determines if a church is a clubhouse or a lighthouse.

Regarding Bible pews, definitely something churches should invest and it should be the one that you teach from. The NIV is by far the most popular and its a great translation as well as the NASB and ESV. Again, selecting the Bible translation who is this for? What are majority of people coming to Grace SLC have? What translation would you recommend a new believer or a seeker to read? The answer: pick that one.

God Bless

Amy Kardel said...

A story from last Easter:
We brought a crew of college-age exchange students to Grace (some had never been to any Christian church and so we gave some intro and they were excited to be part of an American family for a day and join us - great opportunity for anyone at Easter - Cal Poly has so many international students)

Well, anyway, we invited a delightful, educated young woman from Costa Rica to join us and she asked if we were going to a KAReeOHKAYah (phoenetic transcription) church. I was befuddled and her accent was heavy so I said, no, it is a Christian church and went on to explain. Well, we got to services and the singing started and she excitedly pointed to the screens and said, yes you do go to a Karaoke church. Oh my, what a misunderstanding! She said later she grew up in a Catholic church and really was excited to go somewhere with the texts on the screens for the songs. She loved it. Wondered why we did not have the bouncing ball even! Too funny.
It was, in a shorthand way, her summary of an evangelical church, I later learned. Apparently people all over the world even EXPECT it!
Personally, I like the hymnals and would never like the bouncing ball.